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What is Internet Slander?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Internet slander is a form of slander that takes place on the Internet or is posted to Internet websites, forums, or bulletin boards. Such posts are generally considered to be slanderous if they are made in an attempt to defame a person or company or ruin the reputation of that person or company. The statements usually have to be either untrue or be made in an attempt to be harmful without demonstrating any real interest in the common good. Internet slander is a specific form of slander and can usually be prosecuted in a civil or criminal court just like any other type of defamation.

Slander typically refers to defamatory remarks that are spoken out loud or in a context that is only passing and not necessarily long lasting. Libel is the term used to refer to forms of defamation that are fairly permanent and made in writing or a similar media such as a book, newspaper, magazine, or Internet website. Sometimes also called cyberslander, Internet slander may also be referred to as Internet libel and the nature of this distinction typically depends on how the defamation occurs. For example, a post on a forum or in a chat room may not be considered permanent since it is somewhat more transitory in nature and similar to slander than libel.

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Internet slander can be something of a misnomer, however, since information posted on the Internet, even in a way that is likely to be transitory, can be remarkably long lasting. The transition of information on the Internet from a single post in a chat room to repeated postings on numerous websites, forums, and bulletin boards can be almost instantaneous. This means the line between Internet slander and libel can be somewhat less distinct, and many courts are still working on establishing the fine distinction enjoyed by spoken and traditional written defamation.

Most cases of Internet slander can be brought against the person that posted the information by the person or organization the information is about. Someone accused of Internet slander will typically need to defend himself or herself by proving that the information was true and in the interest of the common good, or was posted as opinion and not fact. Statements of opinion, even defamatory ones, are protected as free speech; when the statement is made as a fact, however, is when libel and slander can be considered.

In some cases, the defamation can be defended merely by proving that the statement was true and factually accurate. This is not always enough of a defense, however, and the information may also need to be established as being worthwhile in some way and beneficial for the public interest. Revealing harmful ingredients in food sold by a restaurant can be done in the interests of the common good, while revealing the sexual orientation of the owner of the restaurant is less likely to be seen as beneficial and may be grounds for a defamation lawsuit.

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